After some delays, Godzilla vs. Kong is finally here. The MonsterVerse bout had been in the works for awhile. The cinematic universe had its beginnings in 2014 with the release of Godzilla. The film successfully adapted the iconic reptile, and kick-started a world of Titans. Kong: Skull Island released three years later, and was followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019. Now, we’ve come to the culmination of these films in Godzilla vs. Kong. There’s a lot of anticipation surrounding the showdown, as any crossover event should generate. As a cinematic spectacle, Godzilla vs. Kong can’t be missed.
Cinematic Spectacle At Its Finest
In its title alone, Godzilla vs. Kong comes with certain expectations when it comes to monster-sized action. People are coming to the theater and expecting the grandest action cinema can deliver, and Godzilla vs. Kong delivers it in spades. Not only is it epic, but the film also answers the criticism from Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In that film, almost every action scene took place in dark, stormy weather. Godzilla and Kong’s first battle sequence takes place aboard an aircraft carrier in broad daylight. Seeing Kong land that much-marketed first blow, followed by Godzilla swiping back, really brings some childhood glee. In this sequence, Godzilla and Kong collide underwater, showing the ingenuity that went into crafting the conflict.
If you thought the Hong Kong battle in Pacific Rim was good, get ready for Godzilla vs. Kong. The two-round showdown in the neon-lit city is certainly one of the most impressive action sequences you’ll ever see. Kong using the city as a jungle to evade Godzilla’s atomic breath is pure movie magic. It was also interesting seeing Godzilla fighting on all fours, something we haven’t seen him do in any film to date. In summary, it’s a true slugfest. This and the aircraft sequence alone is worth paying money to watch on the big screen. The climax – the tag team of Godzilla and Kong against Mechagodzilla – is just too good. If the MonsterVerse ends with Godzilla and Kong teaming up to take down one of pop culture’s most iconic robots, what a fitting way to go.
Besides the spectacular battles, the effects overall are fantastic. The Hollow Earth is brought to life as a beautiful, ancient place. Godzilla’s facial expressions are incredibly well animated, from showing fierce anger, to seeing his former opponent jumping in to help. Also, Godzilla entering Hong Kong was great at emulating the Japanese films when he’d come to trample the city. Kong is also well animated, showing a wide range of emotions, from his soft demeanor with Jia, to preparing to fight. Godzilla is accompanied by a grand theme composed by Junkie XL. As a whole, the soundtrack isn’t quite as distinctive as in King of the Monsters, but that thundering Godzilla theme makes an impact every time it’s heard.
Humans Are Important Too
If you read all the various Godzilla vs. Kong reviews, you’ll find this consensus: great monster action, lackluster humans. For example, TIME‘s review states, “The only problem with any enterprise featuring these two most enduring titans is that there is always a necessary but troublesome plot involving people. And humans in these movies are almost always a bore.” Despite this constant criticism, the film is well-received, with a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. It appears that despite a lack of quality human characters, the central conflict and action is enough to please. That’s great, but I think if the approach to making these movies is to put almost all the emphasis on the monsters, and just use the humans to get from point A to point B, it’s a problem.
Any movie, from drama to monster movie, should aim to have developed, compelling characters. Can you imagine Alien being an engaging film if Ellen Ripley wasn’t an interesting character to watch? Of course, Godzilla and Kong are far more characterized than the Xenomorph from Alien. The Titans can hold the screen whenever they’re on, and they do. But no natter how you slice it, the humans are still a big factor, and it seems their only purpose here is to get from point A to point B.
That’s my only real problem with Godzilla vs. Kong. Most of the human characters just aren’t utilized well and are underdeveloped. The biggest offender is Ren Serizawa. Does that last name ring a bell? It should. He is the son of the late Dr. Ishirō Serizawa, one of the most important characters in the MonsterVerse. Yet, Godzilla vs. Kong never brings this relationship up. How interesting it would have been if the story explored his motivations in comparison to his father’s. Mark Russel could have confronted him about going against what Dr. Serizawa stood for. Already, you can see how much the story would be improved with this.
Then there’s Walter Simmons, the film’s main antagonist. In an interview with IGN, Godzilla vs. Kong producer Alex Garcia said Simmons “is a very complex character.” You wouldn’t know that from the film, because this “complex” character is written as a one-dimensional antagonist we’re happy to see go when Mechagodzilla kills him. It would have been good if the film explored his motivations. It could have gone into why he believes he’s doing the right thing. This could have given the character more thematic weight, and a certain tragedy when the technology turns against him. It’s a shame, because Demián Bichir’s performance had good charisma. Oddly, the film doesn’t mention Alan Jonah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
One character that could have been cut is Josh. Josh doesn’t contribute anything to the story. Even in the climax when he tries putting hacking to use, it’s simply spilling liquid into a computer that helps save the day. That could have been written for Bernie or Madison to accomplish. Yet another underdeveloped character is Maia Simmons. She is the daughter of Walter, and that’s all we know about her. What motivates her? Who is she exactly as a person besides being a bad guy? These questions go unanswered.
Now, this is not to say the film is devoid of good characters. Jia, and her connection with Kong, gave the film an emotional touch. Kaylee Hottle played the mute girl with excellence. Rebecca Hall as Dr. Andrews had a genuineness in her interactions with Jia. Bernie can be over-the-top, but he was fun to have around. Personally, I think his jump-scare scene with Madison and Josh was a little silly, but a couple of kids in my theater got a laugh, so I can’t be too harsh on it.
As a whole, though, the human element is on the weaker side. Instead of dialing back the humans in favor of the monsters, how about taking time to craft compelling characters. The greatest Godzilla films have excellent characters alongside the monster action. Films such as Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of Astro-Monster all have memorable human characters. Terror of Mechagodzilla would not be the same without Katsura’s emotional storyline. Ishiro Honda, one of the greatest directors who ever lived, clearly understood this, crafting compelling human characters and villains in the movies mentioned above. Also, Shusuke Kaneko’s work on Gamera speaks for itself on combining great human characters with the monsters. Anyone who says monster movies don’t need good human characters, or thinks kaiju films are B movies as opposed to quality cinema, should fix this incorrect perception and go watch these films right away.
Of course, that’s not to say Godzilla vs. Kong should focus all its attention on the humans. A Vs. movie should satisfy its title. It shouldn’t be like Sadako vs. Kayako (the Ring vs. the Grudge) where the fight is saved for the climax, and it’s disappointingly brief. No, Godzilla vs. Kong rightly spends plenty of time on the conflict, delivering satisfying bouts. But, that’s no reason to assume it’s okay to make one-note human characters. On the contrary, it should motivate everyone even more to carefully create compelling human drama. There’s no reason why these movies can’t have award-winning performances. Yes, there’s positive reception for Godzilla vs. Kong, but imagine reception if the majority of the characters were developed, interesting focuses alongside the Titans.
In the end, Godzilla vs. Kong can’t be called a disappointing movie. It’s epically satisfying with its title characters. It’s one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen, delivering on its premise. It’s a grand time despite underdeveloped characters. The whole product could have truly been one of the best with great characters, though.